If someone had asked me to suggest Scriptures for this ceremony that we celebrate this morning when we enroll young people from our parish to receive sacraments of initiation, I'm sure I would not have chosen the lessons that we just listened to, lessons about the end of the world, the end of time, lessons about destruction and lessons that seem so frightening. Yet, if we listen carefully to these lessons, we can draw an important truth for ourselves and for the young people who will be enrolled today for the sacraments of initiation.
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
A few weeks ago, the Synod of Bishops in Rome took place. I'm sure all of us have heard about what was happening over there -- all the discussions and the differences of opinion and the conflicts that broke out trying to discover what God is telling us today about certain issues. In this case, discussing issues about family life. There were great differences among the bishops, and still are.
People are surprised, "Hasn't God, through Jesus, given us all that we need to know about how to live our lives?" The answer is no, not really. Jesus gave us some broad directions, but we have to keep applying those teachings day by day and one period of time to another. We have to discover new ways in which the teachings of Jesus, the teachings of God are to be applied in our every day life. That's what we find happening in the passages from today's Scriptures.
There's a great difference in the New Testament Scriptures, especially, about those who thought the end times were going to happen immediately, that within their lifetime Jesus would return and the fullness of God's reign would happen. There would be complete peace, fullness of life and joy, and the fullness of God's goodness everywhere in every person. Others began to realize that no, we're in an in-between time. We don't know when it's going to happen.
Even Jesus seems to have not been sure. In his human knowledge, he talks about, "When you see the fig tree blossoming, you know the time for the new growth is nearer, when you'll be able to harvest those figs." But then it doesn't happen; it goes on. You can see the difference with St. Paul. He writes to the church at Corinth and tells people, "Don't even begin to carry on your regular daily life. For example, don't get married because the end time is here. Jesus will return."
But then you also find out that Jesus himself, in talking to Martha at the time when Lazarus had died and she was upset with Jesus, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died." Jesus says to Martha, "Your brother will rise again." She says, "I know, at the end of time." Then Jesus says, "I am the Resurrection. Whoever believes in me though that one died, shall live and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."
Jesus is saying that right now we enter into fullness of life, not at some distant end time, but now, the resurrection is at hand because Jesus is the resurrection. So there is this confusion about whether the reign of God is going to break forth all at once in the return of Jesus or whether, over a period of time, the reign of God will gradually begin to take shape. The reign of God, of course, is something we look forward to.
It's a time when God's love is the dynamic force behind everything. God's love permeates all of creation, every creature, every person. It's a time of peace and love and joy. But it's going to happen, only over a period of time as more and more of us begin to consent to follow Jesus and to live according to his way, to follow his teachings. That means, as Jesus said at the beginning of his public life, in Mark's Gospel, "The reign of God is at hand. Change your lives, begin to live according to the ways of God's reign."
Two Sundays ago when we celebrated the Feast of All Saints, we heard the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the gentle. Blessed are the peacemakers." We heard that beginning of the long sermon in which Jesus proclaimed his way, the way of love. It seems pretty clear as we look at what is happening in our world that we're far from the reign of God. Just what's happened this weekend -- the terrible, brutal violence in Paris -- acts of terrorism that seems to be breaking out everywhere. How do we respond?
If we really live according to the way of Jesus, we respond according to his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. At the beginning of this millennium, the year 2000, Pope John Paul (now St. John Paul) went to the Holy Land and he went to the place where Jesus proclaimed that message. He read the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount and then when he spoke, he said this, "The call of Jesus has always demanded a choice between the two voices competing for your hearts. Even now on this hill, right at this moment, if you're going to follow Jesus, you must make a choice: the choice between good and evil, between life and death."
Then he was appealing (and today we think of our young people beginning this path of initiation) to young people, "Which voice will the young people of the 21st century choose to follow? To put your faith in Jesus means choosing to believe what Jesus says no matter how strange it may seem and choosing to reject the claims of evil no matter how sensible and attractive they may seem."
What St. John Paul was talking about was our ordinary reaction to what is going on, to the violence that we're experiencing would be to say, "Yes, we'll retaliate. We'll kill them." But Jesus' way was different. If we're going to transform our world into the reign of God, if we're really going to follow the way of Jesus and bring the fullness of peace and goodness and love into our world, transform it so that God's dynamic love is everywhere, we have to listen to Jesus, follow his way, which means we can't respond to hatred with hatred, to violence with violence. We can't respond to killing with more killing.
We must begin to respond as Jesus did, with love. That means we can't go over to Paris now and do something there, but it means in our every day life, begin to find the ways that we can reach out and love always to those near to us and our families and our communities, but those even further away by helping whatever way we can to bring justice and fullness of life to people who are so deprived and oppressed.
We must try to make our lives, lives that follow the way of Jesus, the way of love and goodness. In that way, every one of us will begin to enter into the work of Jesus, which is to transform our world into the reign of God. Perhaps it will still come in some sudden instant, but more likely it will be a gradual transformation that will go on according to God's plan until the reign of God comes into its fullness. Each of us has a part to play.
Today these young people by entering into this process of initiation are saying, "I want to follow Jesus." So we must pray for them. Pray for ourselves that we can be good models to them of how to live according to the way of Jesus. Gradually we will begin to bring about the completion of the work of Jesus to transform our world into the reign of God. It's a very difficult choice that Pope John Paul says, "Choosing to believe what Jesus says no matter how strange it may seem, rejecting the claims of evil no matter how sensible and attractive they may seem."
It does seem to make more sense to retaliate, to get even, to kill when you're being killed, to hate when you're being hated, but it's not the way of Jesus. We must take what seems not to be sensible and what seems to be very difficult and yet is the one way to peace in our world. Our young people today begin this path and we hope as they undergo their instruction and training and formation they will be ready to be fully received into the body of the church, into our community as full members joined together with all of us to make the reign of God happen by following the way of Jesus.
[Homily given at St. Philomena Parish, Detroit. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]